13 Budapest Restaurants With Top Modern Hungarian Food

The past two decades have seen an improvement in Budapest restaurants — slimmer menus, inventive recipes, and healthier ingredients are gradually replacing the gut-busting fare of the communist era (there's still a long way to go). Note that many of the below places offer a weekday lunch prix fixe for a fraction of the regular prices. If you're curious about traditional Hungarian dishes, try these restaurants, too.

#1 HILDA

HILDA is a chic downtown restaurant on the increasingly fashionable Nádor Street, an area that has come to life as a growing number of tourists and international students from the nearby Central European University pass through. HILDA boasts a perfect curb appeal and Instagrammable interior: An oversized stained glass mosaic covers one of the walls in its entirety, and the bar is studded with dark blue, glazed Zsolnay ceramic tiles, the same brand that decorates the lobby of the Four Seasons around the corner from here.

#2 Fricska Gastropub

Following stints at well-known Budapest restaurants, two young chefs, Andor Giczi and Szabolcs Nagy, struck out on their own, opening Fricska in 2014. Fricska has since earned a reputation for tasty dishes, and it also picked up a Bib Gourmand award in 2017. The restaurant is located on the far end of Budapest's party district, inside a buzzing below-ground space.

#3 A Séf utcája

In 2014, Lajos Bíró, a Hungarian celebrity chef, opened a fast casual lunch eatery inside the practically empty Hold Street Market. Fast forward to today, this historic downtown market has since transformed into a thriving food court where prominent local chefs operate low-key restaurants and the area swarms with people at lunchtime.

#4 Csalogány 26 Restaurant

In the early aughts, Balázs Pethő, the executive chef of family-run Csalogány 26 Restaurant, was a pioneer in improving Hungarian restaurant food. A whole crop of younger cooks, many of them established head chefs now, learned under Pethő's tutelage at a time when comically backward, communist-era practices reigned supreme in Budapest kitchens.

#5 Olimpia Restaurant

You'll need to trek out to the outer part of District 7, a working class Budapest neighborhood, to experience the elaborate meals prepared by chefs Ádám Csaba and Donát Mogyorósi at Olimpia Restaurant. Instead of a fixed menu, Olimpia uses a blackboard to present the daily-changing dishes, which vary based on seasonal ingredients. The result? Absolutely superb, especially for the prices.

#6 Könyvbar & Restaurant

Könyvbár is an upscale restaurant in Budapest's Jewish Quarter. Head chef Zoltán Decreceni, who joined in 2019, brings a Michelin experience to this snug, book-lined space, which has become a tourist favorite following praise from the New York Times. The food here doesn't easily fit into any mold: there's a goulash soup and a (vegetarian) stuffed cabbage, both Hungarian classics, but the slim menu, which changes seasonally, also features a risotto with scallops, foie gras, and an avocado salad.

#7 Bobo Restaurant

Curious about the top restaurants on the less traveled side of the Danube? Visit Bobo in Rózsadomb, an exclusive residential area but reachable within ten minutes from Pest. The restaurant's stated mission is to draw Budapest's Bobos (a term made popular by the book "Bobos in Paradise"), referring to people who harbor both bourgeois and bohemian sentiments.

#8 Felix Restaurant

With stunning views onto both the Castle Hill and the nearby Danube river, the location of Felix is hard to beat. The restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is located inside a refurbished landmark building from the 19th century designed by Miklós Ybl, the head architect also behind the Budapest Opera House. In terms of prices and ambiance, Felix is a notch above trendy spots but it's also more casual than stiff-lipped fine dining establishments.

#9 Stand25 Bistro

When in 2017 Szabina Szulló and Tamás Széll (a European Bocuse d'Or winner and celebrity-chef in Hungary) announced that they were leaving the Michelin-starred Onyx restaurant to venture out on their own, one didn’t need a business degree to predict success. The idea of Stand25 Bistro was to prove that traditional Hungarian fare can be more than a gut-busting, high-carb, greasy affair. The restaurant's success was immediate: a well-to-do local crowd fills Stand25's tables each day and in 2018 they picked up a Bib Gourmand from Michelin.

#10 La Perle Noire

La Perle Noire is a high-end restaurant occupying the ground floor of Mamaison, a four-star hotel on a quiet section of Andrássy Avenue. (Peppered with residential villas and embassies, Budapest's Andrássy Avenue is often compared to the Champs-Élysées.) Let's get the bad news out of the way: the interior of La Perle Noire is anything but cozy or inviting. Dark furnishings lend a constrained formality and nightclub atmosphere to this oversized space.

#11 Bock Bisztro

In 2004, Bock Bisztró was one of the first Budapest restaurants to push the boundaries of traditional Hungarian food: Executive chef Lajos Bíró showed that contemporary cooking techniques, top ingredients, and a little boldness can jolt local favorites into the 21st century. That crunchy bits of celery root add a welcome freshness to the goulash soup, that the paprikash is also wonderful when enclosed in a delicate pastry crust, that a beautifully plated lecsó tastes better than one served carelessly.

#12 Paletta Budapest

Having a clear concept is a good starting point for any restaurant, so I give a thumbs-up to Paletta, a modern establishment a bit outside the city center in Budapest's District 9. Their mission is to emphasize produce sourced from Transdanubia, especially the region near Lake Balaton in western Hungary. They also draw inspiration from abroad, which is why you might find a "margherita DOP Balaton" or a "BBC cigánypecsenye" on the slim menu. So far, so good.

Rankings are based on a combination of food/drink, atmosphere, service, and price. The author visits all restaurants incognito and pays for his own meals and drinks.